In an already trying season, the A’s found a new way to lose Friday night to the Chicago White Sox -- on Coco Crisp’s first extra-base hit of the year.
With the A’s trailing 7-6 in the ninth, two outs and Stephen Vogt on first after a pinch-hit walk, Crisp drove a Zach Duke pitch off the wall in left-center field. The ball ricocheted directly to center fielder Adam Eaton, who relayed it to shortstop Alexei Ramirez as Vogt came around third base.
A’s third-base coach Mike Gallego tried to signal for Vogt to stop, but Vogt was already around third before he could slow down. Ramirez’s throw to the plate was cut off, the White Sox got Vogt in a rundown and Vogt was tagged out to end the game.
"It looked like (Gallego) had started to send him and then tried to hold him up," A’s manager Bob Melvin said. "I didn’t think he could score there. So he was trying to hold him up."
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Gallego accepted responsibility for what he termed a "bad call."
"Should’ve held him up earlier," Gallego said.
With Crisp’s ball clearly headed for the gap, and two outs in the inning, Gallego said he was probably over-aggressive with the potential tying run.
"We all wanted him to score, didn’t we?" Gallego said. "You get caught up in it -- you can’t get caught up in it. Vogter’s digging and you’re hoping he can find a fifth gear. He was in fourth, and that’s as fast as he’s going to go.
"You’re trying to watch the throw and as soon as I saw the ball come out of Eaton’s hand right to Alexei, I knew I was a little late holding up. Vogter couldn’t get back to the base in time with the time that I stopped him."
Vogt had spent nearly the entire game watching from the bench before entering with two outs to pinch hit. After he walked, though, the only players on the bench for a potential pinch-runner were Ike Davis, who is nursing a strained quad, Max Muncy, who is not a big speed upgrade over Vogt, or a starting pitcher, who would be risking injury.
"Looking at it," Melvin said, "I’m not sure anybody scores on that ball."
Vogt said that was his intention off the bat.
"I was just running hard," he said. "You just run until he makes you stop. By the time I saw the stop sign, I was already too far past third, and then when I turned to see where the ball was I saw (first baseman Jose Abreu) cut it off and throw it to third. You just do what you can and I realized I was just kind of hung out to dry."
Vogt said he hadn’t seen the replay yet but: "Talking to the guys … they said it couldn’t have taken a better hop to Eaton. And that sounds about right."
And for the A’s, fitting.
* Gallego said it was "tough to lose a game in that manner, the way these guys come back, keep coming back."
Then again, the A’s were only in a position to have to come back due to another late lead blown by the bullpen. The A’s were up 6-2 after the sixth inning, only to allow five runs in the seventh -- the inning that has encapsulated their relief struggles.
The A’s have now allowed 35 runs (30 earned) in 37 games in the seventh inning. Friday, they needed four pitchers just to get through the seventh. Jesse Hahn began the inning by retiring the first batter, but his trouble started when third baseman Brett Lawrie kicked a ground ball for his sixth error and the A’s 37th error in 37 games.
Hahn allowed a Carlos Sanchez single and was replaced by Fernando Rodriguez. Eaton grounded into a fielder’s choice for the second out, and Melky Cabrera hit a grounder to the left side. But Eaton was running from first on the play, and Lawrie backed away from the ball, seeming to think shortstop Marcus Semien -- who had broken to cover second -- would be there to field it.
"From my angle I can’t see the distance between (Lawrie) and where the ball was," said Melvin. "I haven’t looked at it on video yet."
A run scored on Cabrera’s single, but the A’s still led 6-3 at that point. Rodriguez then hit Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche hit a double off Fernando Abad to score two runs. Evan Scribner entered to face Avisail Garcia, and Garcia roped a curveball to left-center to drive in Abreu and LaRoche and give Chicago a one-run lead.
"We had three guys in the inning we felt could do the job," Melvin said. "It just didn’t get done."
Melvin has tinkered with his late-inning formula throughout the season but the seventh-inning struggles persist. Left-handed hitters are now 9-for-24 this season against Abad, the lone left-hander in the A’s bullpen. Rodriguez started the year at Triple-A. Scribner has allowed runs in three of his last five outings -- and Friday wasn’t one of them, as he was not charged with a run.
"I’ve got to somehow find the right answer in that inning," Melvin said. "Obviously we’ve struggled with it."
* Hahn pitched into the seventh for the first time this season after recovering from a shaky first inning. He allowed the first four White Sox to reach base, including a bases-loaded walk to LaRoche that forced in Chicago’s first run, but escaped with only one more run scoring on a Conor Gillaspie single.
Starting in the second inning, Hahn retired 14 of 16 hitters to get the A’s to the seventh with a lead. Melvin said it was "nice to see him bounce back."
"First inning is always tough coming off an off-day," Hahn said. "I didn’t throw yesterday, and I felt like that first inning I was just getting some rust off my arm and kind of settled in that second inning and didn’t look back from there."
Hahn said his curveball, which is his best put-away pitch, hasn’t been a big factor for him much of the season but "was there for me tonight." He said he took some satisfaction out of coming back out to start the seventh.
"I haven’t really showed that much this year, so it was good for me to be able to do that," he said. "As for the result, we’ll bounce back."
* That’s been the watchword for the A’s during their 13-24 start, including a 1-12 record in one-run games. As frustrating as some of their losses have been, players have clung to the idea that their fortunes must turn at some point as long as they continue to play games close. But Vogt acknowledged Friday night: "Every day it gets harder."
"We still have faith, we still believe we can do this," Vogt said. "But it is frustrating.
"That’s what’s been hurting us all year is a few defensive errors, and it seems like teams just capitalize on that. They smell blood and just go for it. That’s major-league baseball for you."
With Friday’s loss, the A’s officially have the worst record in baseball (13-24, a winning percentage of .351). They’re 7 ½ games behind the first-place Houston Astros in the A.L. West. They still have the majority of the season to make up that ground, but are digging a formidable early hole -- and in a manner that at times seems more confounding than the losses themselves.
"It seems like we’ve had quite a few of these where an inch one way or another, a foot one way or another, one good at-bat, one good play, we end up winning the game," said Melvin. "And we always end up losing it."
Game two has A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez (1-3, 2.56) facing Chicago left-hander John Danks (1-3, 5.12). First pitch at 6;05 p.m.